What magic words?

Sometimes laws can be hard to understand. There’s a case in the UK where an underage girl was violently married off and raped, but the judge says he can’t annul the marriage. Sorry for citing the Daily Mail but it’s the only source:

A judge says he cannot nullify the marriage of a teenage mother who says she was forced at ‘gunpoint’ into becoming a bride when she was just 14.

Instead the girl, now 17 and a mother of a one-year-old, must defy her family if she wants the union formally annulled, said Mr Justice Holman at the High Court.

The teenager, who was born in Britain and whose family has lived here for 40 years, says she was shipped out to Pakistan to contract a forced marriage with a 24-year-old man two years ago.

She told how she was subjected to ‘harrowing’ violence and menaced with a gun to go through with the ceremony – and was two weeks later forced to have sex with her ‘husband’, giving birth to his baby who is now aged just over one.

After she came forward with her account, her local authority took both her and her baby into care and asked Mr Justice Holman to formally declare that her marriage – which effectively made her a rape victim – could never have been recognised under English law.

But there’s a statute that says he can’t, so he said no.

It seems grotesque, doesn’t it. She never consented, in fact she was forced at gunpoint, so…how was that ever a legal marriage in the first place? You’d think they could carve out an exception for fake “marriages” that are actually not marriages at all but a collection of felonies. Abduction plus menacing plus rape shouldn’t add up to marriage.

Mr Justice Holman accepted that – as the girl was ‘domiciled’ in the UK; had been put under duress; and, most importantly, was under 16 at the time of the ceremony – the marriage was ‘on the balance of probability, void’ under English law.

However, he said he was prevented from making a solemn declaration to that effect by a section of the Family Law Act 1986, which states: ‘No declaration may be made by any court…that a marriage was at its inception void’.

But is it “a marriage” at all? It doesn’t seem like a marriage to me. It seems like a crime, and a very serious crime at that. It’s enslavement enabled by abduction and violence, not marriage. What magic words make it a marriage under those circumstances?



  1. sonofrojblake says

    there’s a statute that says he can’t, so he said no

    Pesky judges, applying the law as it stands. They should just be allowed make exceptions when… erm… And if we don’t like the changes they make to the law, well, next time there’s an election we can um…

    This law is shortsighted and wrong, but it’s the job of government to get it changed to something that take account of the barbarian practices in our midst.

  2. aziraphale says

    Daily Mail: “A judge says he cannot nullify the marriage”

    Brony’s link: “Nothing in this section shall effect the powers of any court to grant a decree of nullity of marriage”

    (I suppose they mean “affect”. Careless drafting if so)

    Something seems to have gone wrong here.

  3. karmacat says

    Is nullifying a marriage the same as granting a divorce in the UK? In the US, as far as I know, you can get a divorce even if the other spouse refuses

  4. Dunc says

    Sorry for citing the Daily Mail but it’s the only source

    That sound you hear is the bullshit klaxon going off in my head. I mean, sure, it could be true, but that there is a very large red flag. This is a paper with a very long and ignoble history of printing distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    In summary, the local authority has petitioned to void the girl’s marriage. The court can’t do that, which, if you think about it for a moment, actually seems reasonable – should a local authority and court between them be able to declare a couple’s marriage void without permission or even request from either party?. The law says no.

    IF the girl chose to do so, she could petition to have it voided, and the court could do so.
    She, so far, hasn’t asked to have her marriage declared void, and on that basis, the law says it can’t be made void.

    Pesky judges, applying the law as it stands.

  6. says


    Ohhhhhh! So what you’re saying is the girl herself is refusing to claim that the marriage should be void? It’s only other people saying this? That’s somewhat understandable, then. One wouldn’t want other people just nullifying marriages willy nilly. But were people doing such a thing prior to 1986? I mean, what problem was this law trying to address? Or is it one of those laws that is a solution in search of a problem? It seems weird to me. And, as it would seem in this situation, creates a problem in cases where a marriage is coerced. One cannot expect the parties involved to speak up for themselves in such a situation.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    what you’re saying is the girl herself is refusing to claim that the marriage should be void?

    No. “Refusing to claim” implies a positive action of refusal.

    What I’m saying, indeed, what I said, is: She, so far, hasn’t asked to have her marriage declared void.

    If you read the link, here’s how they phrase it (with ellipses to clarify):

    counsel for [the girl], said that it was too much to expect [her],[…]to take an active step[…] to petition for a decree that the marriage […] was void

    It is crystal clear the the judge can and shall provide a decree of nullity, as soon as she chooses to ask and not before.

  8. says

    For a better understanding of the case (A Local Authority v X & Anor (Children) [2013] EWHC 3274 (Fam)), there’s a legal analysis and a summary of the judgement. IANAL but it appear to be entirely a matter of legal procedure. The local authority who had the girl in care at the time (she was 16-17) asked for a judgement declaring the marriage void. The judge said that the girl herself had to present the petition (she’d presumably be able to draw on the full legal resources of the council, but it’d have to be in her name). The girl seems to have been reluctant to do so because it would further alienate her family. Justice Holman was saying that he was therefore legally unable to grant the judgement because it was against the statutes for him to do so, but gave a stong indication that if a petition was presented in the correct form, the marriage would indeed be regared as void. It’s a lawyer’s argument, but that’s what the law is about. A judge can’t go just ignoring the statutes for one single case, however grievous, especially when there is another remedy available. This all happened more than a year ago. What I don’t know (and it would probably be quite hard to discover because of anonymity) is whether the local authority and the girl subsequently used the preocedure suggested to get the marriage annulled. I would hope that they did.

  9. Bernard Bumner says

    It is noted in the judgement that the local authority had initiated care proceedings with respect to both the victim and her baby. Hopefully, she was made safe by those powers.

    The law failed her and society failed her at the point where she fell victim to forced marriage.

    The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Act 2014 makes arrangement of a forced marriage a criminal offence, punishable by up to 7 years imprisonment. Breach of a new order to prevent travel for forced marriage can be punished with 5 years inside.

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